Many matters make sense at the local level, like parking and neighborhood traffic laws, or like liquor licenses and building permits so residents can be assured construction is completed safely.
Mandated workplace rules, however — including laws allowing employees to earn and bank paid days off to use when sick or when a loved one is sick — are more appropriately and more logically tackled at the state level, or even the federal level. Otherwise, imagine in Minnesota, if you do business across city lines like most businesses do, and all of a sudden the state's 850 cities all started enacting their own workplace laws and mandates. Imagine the mess. Imagine the confusion.In spite of that, the Duluth City Council last year, over the objections of the business community, passed an earned sick and safe time ordinance. Never mind councilors had no idea how much its implementation and operation might cost taxpayers (at least $140,000 annually to begin with, as it has turned out, for printed materials, to hire a compliance officer, and to cover other costs) and even though an overwhelming 90 percent of Duluth employers already offer earned paid time off, as a City Council-appointed task force reported in 2017. The council essentially enacted a pricey solution to a nonexistent problem.
So news out of St. Paul this week could be welcomed by business operators and anyone else in Duluth eager to see tax dollars not get wasted. A bill in the Minnesota Senate would overturn Duluth's ordinance and similar other measures in Minneapolis and St. Paul. This would open the door for the matter to be considered on a statewide basis — assuming a convincing argument can be made for its necessity.
"This is about having uniform labor standards across the state," Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee Chairman Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, told MinnPost.
"Unfunded local mandates are costing our businesses money," Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Ross said in an interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board. "We prefer a statewide initiative (so) there are no competitive advantages or disadvantages as you go from community to community."
"These kinds of mandates hurt the very people they're trying to help," said Bill Bennett, CEO of LHB, an engineering and architectural firm based in Duluth. "All this does is make it harder for us to be flexible, to be able to accommodate the flexible needs that (employees) have. ... I would rather these (mandates) go away and let us just work with our employees to accommodate them."
With low unemployment and worker shortages, businesses across Minnesota already are struggling to find and keep good employees. It's no surprise most already offer paid days off and other attractive benefits.
In Duluth, last year's heated, sometimes-nasty sick-and-safe-time debate left many businesses here feeling demonized as heartless corporate entities with little care for their people.
No matter what gets decided this session in St. Paul, Duluth can reconsider its unneeded, expensive, and burdensome-on-our-businesses sick-and-safe-time ordinance, recognizing that workplace rules, really, are most appropriately taken up at the state level.